Having no shame is normally supposed to be bad. But at times, it is a great quality to have. And I’ve learned that from none other than my Amma.
Quite contrary to my usual way of doing what I want to do, I sometimes feel an inhibition to do some things because of an unreasonable shyness. The most I was affected by this stupid feeling was when I started putting in an effort to improve my Hindi. Although I had lived all my life in Kerala, I could always understand Hindi very well, thanks to lots and lots of Hindi movies and TV programmes I used to watch. But I never had to speak in the language until I went to West Bengal for two months on deputation. Travelling for the first time to any place out of South India, one of my worries was how I would communicate with people who didn’t know English. The very first day in West Bengal itself I went to a small roadside shop to get a SIM card. Hoping that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself, I started talking in broken Hindi. When the shopkeeper replied I heaved a sigh of relief, because what came out of his mouth was equally broken Hindi. We bonded quickly as partners in misery and talked for sometime about nothing in particular. Thankfully, that was my experience everywhere in West Bengal and it gave me a feeling that I would be able to survive anywhere.
Then I came to Hyderabad and joined the training centre here. When I saw all my colleagues talk to each other in Hindi, I decided I should start doing that too so that I become more fluent in the language. Hari was already very fluent in the language as he had a close circle of friends at work who used only Hindi. I wanted to be like him too. I was very much aware of my Malayalam accent while speaking in Hindi and mistakes with “ka”, “ki”, verbs that come with “tu”, “tum”, “aap” etc. But I thought I could get over all that and get better at the language with constant use. That was when I found the biggest obstacle in my way – a number of colleagues of mine who decided that it was easier to make fun of someone for trying to speak in a new language instead of helping her. The irony was that these were the very same people who preached about motivating trainees to get over their fear of speaking in English and helping them. Every time I tried framing a complete sentence in Hindi based on the Bollywood Hindi I had heard till then, I was ridiculed like crazy. Now when look back I feel I should have just asked them to go to hell. But back then, it really affected my confidence and I stopped speaking in Hindi altogether and stuck to English strictly.
It took another two years for me to finally start with Hindi again, because of necessity. Last year when we were getting a new apartment and dealing with workers, I decided to take charge of things as I was not working at the time. That meant talking to everyone including taxi drivers, builders, agents, carpenters, plumbers and anyone associated with work in the apartment. And since most of these people were comfortable only with Hindi, I had no option other than use the language. Those three or four months of constant use made me realize speaking in Hindi is no big deal. Today I speak very comfortably in the language, although I still make mistakes here and there. Every time a taxi driver tells me, “Madam, your Hindi is really good, especially for someone who comes from Kerala”, I wish I could make those old colleagues of mine listen to it.
A few months back, Amma came to visit me. My neighbour aunty, who speaks only Odiya and Hindi, was very excited about having her here to chit-chat for a few days. I told her that Amma knows only English and Malayalam as she had never lived anywhere else in India. I said I would help them talk to each other as a translator. I took Amma there a day after she reached. What I saw next shocked me. Amma, recollecting whatever little Hindi she had learned back in school, was slowly framing sentences and talking to aunty without anyone else’s help. Yes, it sounded like a little kid learning to speak in a new language. But whatever she said was 90% correct and could easily be understood. Aunty looked at me with a wide grin and said, “Beta, your mom speaks good Hindi. You told me she doesn’t know Hindi.” I looked puzzled and said, “Until we left home, she didn’t. I don’t know how she learned now!!” We sat there for the next half an hour and all the while they talked like two good friends meeting after a long time.
When we got back home, I hugged her tight and told her how proud I was of her for not having any inhibition in using a language she had no grip on. She beamed with pride, but as is quite characteristic of her, said with made-up modesty, “Oh please! Don’t make fun of me. I was saying all wrong things. I was just trying out whatever I learned in school.” From that day until she left, she would come to me every now and then with stories of how she went to the local store and spoke to them in Hindi and got what she wanted or how she talked to the security guard in Hindi and got him to do something. Every time I said “Good job!” there was a childlike twinkle in her eyes which filled my heart. I’m sure that if she stays here for a month, she would learn Telugu too, unlike me. That kind of makes me feel a little ashamed of myself for not talking in Hindi for so long only because some idiots made fun of me.
When I think about it, this is not the only thing she has done out of her comfort zone. This ability to move ahead without fear or shame is something characteristic of her. Whether it be learning how to drive at the age of 33 and not giving up no matter how many times the car stopped in the middle of the road, or asking my brother to not pick her up from Chennai Central station and instead going to the nearby local train station and travelling to Pallavaram all by herself to enjoy the ride, or exploring all the nearby local shops which none of us has gone to and becoming friends with the shopkeepers with whatever broken language she needs to use, or joining computer courses and fitness courses in another country to make sure she didn’t waste her time sitting at home when Acha went to work, I have always seen in her a spirit of adventure, a spirit of wanting to try new things. She focuses on what she wants to do and gets it done, without worrying about what anyone would say. And just like a little kid, she blushes every time she gets a compliment on her accomplishments and goes on to do even better with the newfound motivation.
As her kid, I’ve got a lot of it, but not all of it. I am still trying to reach that level of “shamelessness” and the day I do, I will be proud of myself the way I am proud of her.